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OREA, TREB spat comes down to growing pains, Royal LePage CEO says

Last Updated May 22, 2018 at 7:20 pm EDT

Condominiums are seen under construction in front of the skyline in Toronto, Ont., on Tuesday October 31, 2017. The Ontario Real Estate Association isn't backing away from its campaign on the lack of housing affordability in Toronto, even after harsh criticism from the province's largest real estate board. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

TORONTO – A spat between the Ontario Real Estate Association and the Toronto Real Estate Board is the product of the association’s “growing pains” and its leadership’s political ties, says the CEO of one of Canada’s largest real estate companies.

The tension between the housing bodies that manifested itself in an heated letter from TREB attacking OREA for fixating on the lack of housing affordability in Toronto, comes from OREA trying to “re-engineer itself” after it recently lost the ability to provide educational courses to realtors after December 2020, said Phil Soper, Royal LePage executive. Last April, it was announced that Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning and learning management company NIIT Canada would take over realtor education.

“OREA has latched onto one of the big public policy challenges we have in Ontario, which is the housing shortage,” Soper said, adding the association seems to think they can make a difference by trying to influence future politicians.

“We’ve got an association that’s figuring out what it needs to do, but is experimenting, and, I think, doing a good job at trying to find its role and its new mandate. But in the process, it’s stepped on some toes and they need to just work it out.”

TREB and OREA’s tension stemmed from OREA’s recent “Keep the Dream Alive” campaign, which aims to address the dearth of moderately priced housing. But it also upset TREB enough for the board to voice concerns that it could “have psychological consequences for consumers and could provoke further unwarranted negative government intervention.”

Earlier this month, TREB sent a letter to OREA that was obtained by The Canadian Press, saying it has “serious trepidations” about the campaign’s message and its focus on Toronto, and wants OREA to stick to its mandate to promote the province’s housing market as a whole.

“It is naive to suggest the dream of home ownership is dead or dying. It’s alive and well in every Canadian city and beyond. To state otherwise is misleading to the consumer,” TREB president Tim Syrianos wrote in the letter to OREA President David Reid.

OREA and TREB have said little about their skirmish, but released a joint statement saying the letter is “not reflective of the long standing and positive relationship” between the organizations, and that they hope to resolve the discussions “amicably and internally.”

On Tuesday, OREA CEO Tim Hudak skirted questions about the organization’s feud with TREB and instead stuck to discussing the very topic that irked TREB: the lack of affordable housing in Toronto

“We want to make sure that great Canadian dream of home ownership doesn’t slip away from the next generation,” said Hudak, at an event OREA held to unveil a Ryerson University report it sponsored.

The report supported OREA’s notions of lacking housing affordability, saying millennials — those aged 15 to 34 — in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area are living with their parents longer as they struggle to find affordable houses.

When asked about why OREA was continuing to focus on the Toronto market, Hudak answered more broadly, saying everywhere he travels across Ontario, realtor boards identify inventory as “a major issue.”

“There are not enough starter homes in the marketplace and baby boomers are a very healthy generation that are holding onto family homes longer,” he continued. “The big lesson on this today is we need to increase housing supply particularly around starter homes and the missing middle.”

The missing middle refers to affordable so-called mid-rise homes such as townhouses, triplexes and duplexes that experts have identified as often lacking in the GTA.

To continue to rally for such issues to be addressed, OREA has said it will get involved in candidate debates, surveys, advocacy work around home ownership and the lack of housing supply, and will engage with politicians at Queen’s Park when the provincial government returns to session.

“The cause is noble and the right one, how they’re going about it I personally don’t have an issue to their approach broadly,” said Soper.

However, Soper said following the forthcoming June 7 election in Ontario he will solicit feedback from his staff on OREA’s Keep the Dream Alive campaign and share it with OREA.

On Tuesday, Hudak said he feels the opportunity to own a home is slipping away from many young people and now, the Ryerson report from Diana Petramala and Frank Clayton, researchers at the university’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, puts the “academic weight” behind his feelings.

“They’ve demonstrated clearly that millennials, unlike what some so-called experts say, do want to own a home someday and secondly, this will have a massive effect on the marketplace when 500,000 new millennial-led households come into play in the next 10 years, he said. “We simply don’t have the supply to keep up.”

The report said there will be almost 700,000 millennials looking for their own home in the next decade, despite a limited supply, and a high number of baby boomers that are not expected to downsize “in a meaningful way” until mid-2040.

Those market forces, the report predicted, will cause many to take on high debt loads and abandon the region’s urban core in search of affordable housing, leading to longer commutes and more traffic congestion.

That phenomenon coupled with high housing costs and lacklustre income prospects for millennials could make it difficult for the GTHA to retain talent, the study said.